We have just passed the winter solstice and the new nursery and new financial years are about to start. I always feel better after the shortest day as it is the start to the better growing conditions. Sure it is only three weeks into winter and the days slowly get longer, but they are getting longer. Only a few weeks and August is here and the spring bulbs start, the wattle comes into flower and we are into the next cycle.
It is election time and we have the normal Liberal – Labour debate for control of the government. Being a full Senate election the quota for each senator is less than normal which means we will probably have a few extra minor parties represented. This is great for democracy but not always good for the smooth running of government. Let’s hope if we do have a large cross bench that they take a responsible approach to reviewing legislation. They need to understand that business is not bad and it is okay to make a profit.
It will be an important election for small business with a lot of discussion about weekend penalty rates, a balanced budget and tax review. We need progress in these and many other areas. Unfortunately many of the ones that are critical to the primary sector aren’t really being discussed. Skill shortages, lack of labour, interstate plant movement and plant import/export are just a few.
Like most countries, Australia needs good export to help ensure we have a strong economy. With the rise of the middle classes in north and south east Asian countries there is a constantly building demand for our food and fibre production. From specialist beef farmers wholesaling at $100 per kg to mass produced fresh produce and gourmet packaged products, everything is in demand. This new middle class will have more money to spend than the average Australian and so are willing to pay more for the food. This will in turn encourage more people to export and drive up local prices. This is good for the farming community as they will be able to get better returns for their produce.
There is also interest in our nursery sector. It is great that we now have Free Trade Agreements with so many countries in the Asia Pacific basin. Unfortunately these are signed by the upper echelons of government and do not bring the middle level bureaucrats along. Shipping plants overseas can be troublesome when dealing with foreign inspectors, international quarantine, freight companies, freight delays and many other logistical issues. However what we don’t expect is problems from our own departments.
There are several companies that I know of who have given up shipping plants from Australia due to bureaucratic delays and there are others who have lost money when shipments are held up here. We have two orders on our books for lavender into Asia. One has decided to buy from NZ and the other is close to giving up. All they want is a Phytosanitary Certificate which is a government issued piece of paper to say the plants have been inspected and found free from pests and disease. There are also other additional statements that may be required. Australia is one of the worst for having additional statements and require these certificates for all plants (and most agricultural produce) coming into Australia. There are enough anecdotes of importers jumping through crazy hoops to keep the inspectors happy to full a book.
The reality is we should not have these problems for plants leaving Australia. Up until about four years ago it was simply a matter of booking an inspector, typing up a form detailing the plant names, quantities and where they were grown and getting the plants inspected. Took an hour or so for the inspection and cost around $100. Then some bright spark decided to redo the whole system. Now we have to go onto a specific website and detail the plants and the receiving country. The website then tells us what to ask the inspector to put on the certificate. Sounds simple but when they built the website they didn’t enter any information.
If the plant you want export hasn’t been exported to that country before you cannot get a certificate. So my customer has to approach their department and get written confirmation of what is needed, send it to me and I have to get the data entered. This can take up to a month. My customers are not willing to wait so they will sneak the plants in or go to another country that doesn’t require this. It is ironic that we require plant importers to get Phytosanitary certificates from other countries and expect it to be a simple process but do not do the reverse. The worst thing is you cannot even ring anyone. The department doesn’t answer the phone and replies to messages by email. I am sure there are many nurseries who have had a similar experience and just given up. Great way to encourage export.
Hope the New Financial Year is a good one and we get a sound, sensible functioning government. Most of the country has had good autumn rains so we can look forward to a good spring – if the weekends have fine weather.